2002—Memoirs: Oliver (concluded)
we purchased for $587.50 a half share of George’s and Nancy’s houselot and the eastern half of their house, still under construction.

I became at that point, legally if only briefly, a “housewright.” George and I intended to support our families as partners in the building trade. Salem was expanding, and we expected to find solid opportunity near our new home.

And it might have worked, if we’d been able to get along. The house was nearly completed, and while it afforded close quarters for seven (soon to be eight) souls, other souls than ours might have found it sufficient. Our two youngest at the time, Charles Oliver and Henry Hammond, were perfectly normal, if noisy, little fellows. And while one doesn’t wish to speak ill of one’s own children, I must confess that our beloved firstborn Harriet was a monumental handful, even several months short of her fifth birthday. It wasn’t long before she and her Aunt Nancy were at irreconcilable loggerheads. As a good mother, of course, Hannah took Harriet’s part, to the detriment of her own relations with her sister-in-law.

Be that as it may, only four months into our experiment in extended family living, George and Nancy sold us (for $700) their interest in our shared property, and they removed to Merrimack County, New Hampshire. To buy George out, we had to mortgage the place to Edmund Johnson of Salem for $192—a small fraction of its total value, to be sure, but more than I was able to repay, over the next few years. In 1815, I’m told, the Essex County Sheriff sold our remaining rights in equity to the property at public auction. For ten dollars, which of course we never saw. By then, we had started over with a homestead land grant at Farmington, Ontario County, New York, near the construction of the Erie canal.

So now I’m once again a farmer. Harriet, eleven years old when we came to New York State, studied hard and became a schoolteacher at a very young age. She was only seventeen when her teaching
brought her to meet and marry Isaac Decker, a young farmer from the neighboring town of Phelps, where they set up their household in 1820 and where their first three children were born over the next six years.

It was about 1827 when both of our households, Wheeler and Decker, moved a hundred miles to the west, to adjoining farms here at Freedom, Cattaraugus County. There, the Deckers had two more children and became involved in the earliest events of the Mormon movement.

Now they’ve moved away from here, first to Ohio, where they were baptized into the new Mormon Church, then with those people to Missouri, to Illinois, and across the plains to the Great Basin. Where Harriet and our grandchildren have married into Brigham Young’s family in a bewildering variety of ways, and where she’s apparently something of a celebrity.

And where, I hear, she gives out that her heritage is Welsh! She also claims to have learned her domestic skills as a mill-girl in Salem. Not sure why she wants people to believe that: she learned all those valuable accomplishments, along with reading, writing, and ciphering, from my Hannah, rest her soul, and she learned them very well. We left Salem before Harriet was old enough to work in the mills.

We went through some painful times together, when Harriet was a girl. I expect she may be embarrassed at the memory of some of that. I’m sorry that it took so long for us to find rest and a bit of prosperity. But it all just may have been useful to Harriet, preparing her for her later roles as a prominent pioneer in the West.

What I hear about her these days reminds me very much of the irrepressible, opinionated little girl we dragged across three States of this Union, before she chose her own path through three more States and three Territories. God bless her and keep her. And God help anybody who proposes to get in her way.
Cambridge, 23 October 2002
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